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How I Built a Premier Mobile Salon And Barbershop For Busy Professionals

It was the passing of a friend from cancer that prompted me to want to start a business but the idea of STERLINGS came to me like a bolt of lightning. I was probably the last person on the planet to start a mobile barbershop.

Sterlings Mobile Salon and Barbershop

As a high tech professional I knew very little about barbering but it was a chance encounter one Saturday morning back in 2012 when I came up with the idea. I went to a chain salon and waited 45 minutes to get a trim and ended up with a buzz cut.

Sterlings Mobile Truck

Frustrated with the experience I was driving home and passed a food truck – another embodiment of the value of mobile services – and the STERLINGS concept was born!

How did you validate the idea?

I did a lot of market research and saw that the previous people who had tried mobile salons would launch and go out of business soon after. I realized the business model they had was broken, as they were following the food truck model and parking on the side of the road. The difference with haircuts versus food is you don’t get a haircut each day so I flipped the model on it’s head to aggregate the demand by partnering with large corporations to bring the services onsite on a regular basis (i.e. once a week or every other week). I was able to partner with corporations because they love the attraction, retention and productivity the service provides their employees. The second mistake I noticed is the vehicles used were ugly white trucks or RVs.

Inside Sterlings Mobile Truck

I realized that it didn’t matter how convenient the service was, if it didn’t look good people weren’t going to come inside so I went premium with the luxury Airstream.

Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?

As I mentioned I was as far away from a barber as possible but what I did understand was the companies since I worked at many of them and I understood the client since I was “the busy professional”. I always recommend it to anyone looking to start a business people to solve a problem they have. You’ll then be much more likely to create a product or service to address that problem.

Have you raised any money? How much?

I raised $180K with most of it going to the buildout of the trailer.

Who is your target demographic?

Our target demographic is the busy professionals, both men and women. Our age range runs from 20-65 and we provide a diverse set of services, cuts, colors, shaves, blowouts, manicures to name a few.

What is the funniest/most strange customer request you’ve had?

We got asked to visit a variety of corporations from fortune 500 tech companies, apartment complexes, hotels but we once got asked to visit a prison. Logistically it didn’t work out but it would have made for a good story!

How did you fund the idea initially?

I did smaller investments of $10-$20K from family, friends and people I met through business school.

What motivated you to start your own business?

Ever since I could remember I wanted to start my own company. I always tried to absorb everything about business, from reading books to talking to business owners and even going to business school, I tried to consume it all. I always came up with ideas for companies but still could never pull the trigger to launch until one fateful day; a good friend got cancer and passed away shortly after. He was very similar to me, tech professional with advanced degrees and worked for some good companies. His passing got me thinking, this could happen to anyone and when my time came would I regret not starting my own thing because I was scared of failing? I was then fortunate to have that eureka moment of passing a food truck after a haircut to get the idea for a mobile barbershop.

What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?

They were very all very supportive because I believe they thought it was a good idea. I’m sure some people were wondering how did I go from having a Masters in Computer Science and MBA and good career in tech to the beauty industry!

Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?

I have two things I like to tell someone who wants to start a business.

  1. I learned that you can do surveys and focus groups until you’re blue in the face but you won’t know if an idea works until you launch. One thing I would have done differently is instead of spending $150K+ on a trailer and then launching I would have tried a pop-up tent to test the idea. I was fortunate it worked out and that people liked it and kept returning to use the service but I wouldn’t take that risk again.
  2. Startups have the highest highs and the lowest lows. I try not to get too excited with the wins and too down on the losses. When you embrace the turbulent nature of having a business you’ll be better at dealing with it.

What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?

The reason we have been successful is also the reason we aren’t as big as I want to be. By nature I’m conservative and try to figure things out before we grow bigger. I’ve started to take a bit more calculated chances but that is after years of getting things in place and the belief that whatever comes our way we always figure out.

How do you protect yourself from competition?

Most businesses out there live and die by execution, very few are protected solely because of patents. Businesses are a lot of work and hard. I always encourage people to start mobile businesses, it grows the market and the truth is it's hard. If it were so easy to do then everyone would be doing it.

What are the next products you’re working on?

We are always adding new services such as the soon to be quick shave with the Gillette Heated Razor but our main focus is on expanding our locations.

Example of Sterlings Appointment

We are in San Diego but launched in Orange County back in November and were about to launch in the Bay Area but put it on hold due to COVID.

Would you ever sell?

I’m very proud of STERLINGS and the only thing important to me is that it continues to grow and the idea reaches more people.

Sterlings mobile on the street

I believe selling to a larger corporation who has the financial backing and reach could help achieve those two goals. Ideally I’d like to continue to stay onboard to help.

Company Name: Sterlings Mobile Salon & Barber Co.
Founder: Kush Kapila



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